A House bill to shield the FAA from future government shutdowns is picking up support and has “galvanized” an industry once sharply divided on funding of the air traffic control organization, industry leaders agreed. Some 40 organizations signed a February 12 letter to the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee and aviation subcommittee leadership strongly endorsing the bill, H.R.1108, which would allow the aviation trust fund to cover all FAA expenses during times of future shutdowns and permit workers there to continue to get paid.
“The effect on the nation’s air transportation system and the workers charged with keeping the system safe was dramatic,” the letter stated of the recent 35-day shutdown. “We find this situation to be unacceptable and we want to work with Congress and the Administration to prevent this from ever happening again.”
Testifying before the aviation subcommittee hearing on the ramifications of the most recent shutdown, General Aviation Manufacturers Association president and CEO Pete Bunce told lawmakers he hasn’t seen the industry as united as strongly on an issue as it has on H.R.1108. Bunce added that the letter might have had more signatories, but leaders wanted to ensure it got to Congress ahead of the day’s hearing. Airlines for America president and CEO Nicholas Calio expressed similar sentiments, saying the issue has “galvanized the industry. We have come together.”
T&I chairman Pete DeFazio (D-Oregon), who alongside aviation subcommittee chairman Rick Larsen (D-Washington) introduced H.R.1108, called shutdowns "stupid" and said no matter who is in control of the White House or Congresses, “It’s got to end. It’s a stupid way to get leverage.” A number of other lawmakers attending the hearing also offered support for the bill.
During the hearing, Bunce and Calio joined several other industry leaders who went into depth on some of the ramifications of the shutdown. Bunce noted one manufacturer had weighed furloughs because it couldn’t get FAA flight-test personnel in on its flight-test program. A Louisiana company had four helicopter deliveries held up by the inability to get the appropriate signoffs and those deliveries still haven’t been completed. A major manufacturer was experiencing roughly a $10 million monthly burn rate on certification delays. He explained that even though the furlough was 35 days, it would take much longer to get back into the queue for certification inspections. In fact, Bunce said estimates are the recovery takes three to four weeks for every one week of shutdown.
Calio, meanwhile, pointed to estimates ranging from $15 million and $25 million of losses various airlines incurred from lost flights and delays in deliveries, among other issues that cropped up. But he expressed concern that the most significant ramification was the human toll throughout the system.
National Air Traffic Controllers Association president Paul Rinaldi reiterated the stress and exhaustion that the controllers experienced during the shutdown, particularly younger ones who had to find other means of income. The shutdown had ripple effects throughout the system, Rinaldi agreed.
Mike Perrone, national president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, discussed the hit to morale his members took as they were told they weren’t essential personnel. He agreed that these members—the specialists who maintain the ATC system and provide oversight of the industry—are highly trained people with technical backgrounds who could be lured into private-sector jobs.
On the front line, flight attendants saw first-hand concerns throughout the system that the strains could degrade safety and security, said Sara Nelson, international president, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
But when asked if any flight took off that wasn’t safe as a result of the shutdown, the leaders agreed that was not the case.